When I was teaching at the community college, I had a student inform me during a discussion about a paper assignment that he had never been told that he had to put a quotation from a source in quotes.  Now, of course, he could have been lying–maybe he was–but, he was a special needs student, a rather competent one I found, and I have to wonder whether  he didn’t just fall through the cracks because teachers didn’t want to deal with it plagiarism and a special needs student.

It raises some interesting questions about plagiarism.  How is it taught?  Is it taught?  Do students actually learn what they are suppose to do in this regard and how often do we assume they know when they’re clueless?

Of course, there are clearly accidental infractions of plagiarism, such as is described in the article below–an instance where a student understands what plagiarism is, but was not sufficiently experienced in the field to recognize that the descriptive expression used was unique to the author and not common parlance in the discipline.

I was a plagiarist.  (I was not, it’s the article title.)

There has been some depressing stuff coming out of campuses in recent years when it comes to cheating and dishonesty, but let’s consider the difficulty of the concept for a moment.  Inexperienced students may struggle to find the balance between referencing someone else’s work and avoiding plagiarism.  Many early “research papers” coming out of middle school or junior high are little more than book reports, where the student has used one or two sources total.  However, since they are not billed or assigned as book reports, students think they are doing research papers when they are in fact essentially plagiarizing.  I have noticed this to be the case even when multiple sources are required.

How well do teachers correct this?  The student is clearly learning, but yet is not handing in original work.  More to the point, how does the student’s next teacher deal with this type of work after a precedence is set?  Sometimes educators are so gratified to see that students have learned something that this sort of mistake goes uncorrected.  This is especially common for students who do not engage in or grasp the detective work involved in history–they regurgitate a scholar’s argument and have no idea that this is not a history research paper.  The repercussions for plagiarism are often harsh, particularly in colleges and universities where it is policy to black ball the student as a plagiarist–a label attached to their transcript–but even in high school often result in automatic failure for at least that assignment.

Notice that this is not the same as a student going to the publisher’s website and copying and pasting the reviews into a word document and handing it in; this is not lifting a Wikipedia article; this is not copying a page from an author without giving credit and then removing the page from the book–all of which do and have happened in clear cases of dishonest, deliberate plagiarism.

So, I am interested in what people think.  Take the polls below:



Filed under Editorials on education

2 responses to “Plagiarism.

  1. Recommended reading by one my readers regarding the education of citations: The Citation Project,

    They address some of the same issues I did in the blog.

  2. Pingback: On those days when it is hard to write… | Brush off the dust! History now!

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